as tested: $33,465
This week, we’re driving the all-new 2020 Buick Encore GX, a compact size SUV that joins sibling Encore sub-compact SUV in the Buick family. Delivered in top tier Essence trim with front wheel drive mechanicals, this new GX is a few inches longer in wheelbase and four inches longer overall compared to the smaller Encore. The resulting increase in legroom and cargo capacity is most welcome.
The Encore GX lineup includes entry Preferred ($25,095), Select ($26,695), and top tier Essence ($28,500). For AWD, add $2,000 to the front-drive prices.
Most notable is a new drivetrain, as the GX is powered by a 3-cylinder turbocharged Ecotech engine that comes in two designs, one for the front-drive models and one for the AWD trims.
Although you don’t hear much about 3-cylinder powerplants these days, they’ve actually been around for decades and used by manufacturers like BMW, Mitsubishi, and Ford to name but three.
The front drive GXs receive motivation from a 1.2-liter 3-cylinder delivering 137 horsepower and 163 lb. ft. of torque. All of the smaller engines couple to a continuous variable automatic transmission (CVT). If you opt for an AWD GX, a larger 1.3-liter turbo is standard and ups horsepower to 155 with 174 lb. ft. of torque. Unlike the 1.2’s CVT, the AWD trims will arrive with GM’s 9-speed automatic. However, our front drive tester had the more powerful 1.3 Ecotech, which is a $395 extra and highly recommended.
Buick’s 3-cylinder engine is the most talked about feature as in the past, 3-cylinders, overall, were a bit tougher to make run in a quiet, non-vibrating mode.
However, after a week behind the wheel of this new GX, I’ll give Buick the nod on finding a way to eliminate any serious vibrating, but as for quiet this engine is not.
Also, if I didn’t know there was a 3-cylinder under the hood instead of a 4-cylinder I clearly wouldn’t have known.
I can’t tell the difference from the 4-cylinder Encore we drove back in 2018 and this new 3-cylinder Ecotech, although neither impressed when it came to acceleration.
Under full acceleration trials, zero to 60 is going to take just over 9.5 seconds. There’s also not a great deal of punch when you floor the gas going 55-mph to 70-mph as the turbo is out of its maximum torque range at that point.
Further, we’re somewhat disappointed the fuel mileage isn’t better, especially with such a small motor. EPA estimates for the 1.2 are surprisingly low with 26 city and 29 highway whereas the larger 1.3 is decent at 30 city and 32 highway. Neither are outstanding numbers for a compact size SUV regardless of how many pistons you have to work with.
So, I’ll sum up the use of this new 3-cylinder as having no advantages over the 4-cylinder, and leave it at that.
Horsepower aside, there are many GX positives.
If you happen to visit your local hardware/home center for a 2x4x8, you’ll be able to fit it inside the GX thanks to a fold flat front passenger seat. With the rear seat down it allows fitment right to the front dashboard. Also notable is more rear seat room thanks to the stretch in both length and wheelbase.
Most notable is that every Encore Essence GX built comes with a full line of upscale standard safety features, including an available adaptive (smart) cruise control that runs from digital cameras instead of the previous radar only units. Other GX notables that come standard on all trims include blind spot alert, forward collision alert with emergency braking, pedestrian detection and braking, lane departure alert and assist, automatic headlamps, rear camera mirror and a rear vision camera.
Nestled between the Encore and Envision, the new GX is easy to drive and park. Underneath sits a MacPherson front strut coupled to a rear torsion suspension that results in comfortable and secure road manners although you will feel some bumps. GM’s Stabilitrak traction controls, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, electronic brake force are also noteworthy.
Overall all Encores, be it front drive or AWD, handle decent thanks in part to traction hungry Hankook 18-inch all-season tires on nice machined aluminum wheels.
The cabin is well appointed, regardless of trim selected.
You’ll be pleased that every Encore GX arrives with standard power driver seat, Android/Apple compatibility, Amazon Alexa, keyless entry, OnStar, air conditioning and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. You also receive at no extra cost Bluetooth, 4G WiFi hotspot, input jack, a Buick Infotainment six-speaker sound system, eight-inch touchscreen and USB port interface. SiriusXM is optional on the Preferred but standard on Select and Essence.
Options include an Advanced Technology Package for $1,750 that adds an upgraded Infotainment package with navigation, an HD surround vision camera, head up display, and an adaptive cruise camera. A Convenience Package for $770 adds automatic park assist with braking, wireless charging, rear camera washer, and rain sense windshield wipers. (I’d pass on both these packages).
Rounding out the options are $520 for a power hands free liftgate package, $495 for metallic paint (nice) and $395 for the aforementioned 1.3 liter 3-cylinder. With $995 delivery, it brought the final retail to $33,465.
Important numbers include a wheelbase of 102.2 inches, 3,335 lb. curb weight, 23.5 to 50.2 cu. ft of cargo room, 13.2 gallon fuel tank and 7.5 inch ground clearance.
In summary, Buick Encore GX is a new compact SUV that offers nice looks and the legendary Buick name.
Although some competitors offer better fuel mileage and more power, Encore GX is wrapped in the upscale “creature comfort” craftsmanship Buick is noted for.
Check with your Buick dealer about any current end-of-year incentives or lease offerings.
Likes: Looks, Buick heritage, easy to drive, classy.
Dislikes: Needs more horsepower, expensive options, 1.2-liter MPG.
—Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist.